The biggest of the big-box stores, warehouse clubs draw penny-pinchers by the millions. More than 120 million people have memberships at BJ’s, Costco and Sam’s Club.
Known for spartan interiors and mega-sized everything, the warehouse stores offer significant savings. BJ’s prices were on average 29 percent lower, Costco’s 30 percent lower, and Sam’s Club 33 percent lower than the largest supermarket chains, according to a survey by Consumers' Checkbook published by the not-for-profit Center for the Study of Services.
The key to savings – for the stores and for you – is buying in bulk. It’s hard to walk into Costco and buy just half a pound of anything. That’s OK if you’re buying groceries for a household of children, but what if it’s just you?
A family that spends $150 a week at a conventional supermarket could save $2,270 a year when shopping at BJ’s, $2,344 a year when shopping at Costco, and $2,571 when shopping at Sam’s Club, according to the Consumer’s Checkbook survey.
But the typical 20-something single person spends less than a third that in the grocery store each week, according to a study by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
An annual membership at Costco will run you $55 a year and $45 at Sam’s Club. So, can you possibly buy enough stuff to get your money back on the annual membership?
Some things are really cheaper. You’ll save $127 buying a 65-inch Vizio HDTV at Costco versus an electronics-only big box store. You’ll save $30 on a Dyson DC41 Animal Plus Upright Bagless Vacuum if you buy it at Costco rather than Target. Blu-ray discs are typically $5 cheaper.
You’ll pay 67 cents each for Starbucks House Blend K-Cups for single-serve coffee brewers compared to nearly 94 cents each at Staples or Bed, Bath and Beyond.
Even beer and wine is cheaper at Costco than at Total Wine. Books are cheaper than at Barnes & Noble.
You don’t find the selection at the warehouse stores that you will find at specialty big box stores, but you will find savings.
But not always. A Samsung Blu-ray player selling for $119.99 at Costco sells for the same at Best Buy.
Also, you may be surprised what you’ll find wandering the stacks of stuff.
“Sam’s Club is not just about bulk items,” says Carrie Foster of Sam's Club. “There are several home and lifestyle categories like jewelry, apparel and electronics that provide members exceptional value and quality brands.”
Sam’s Club also offers deals on services such as pharmacy and vision centers, Foster says.
If you’re not an out-of-control impulse buyer – it’s hard to stick to your list in these places – you can certainly save more than $55 a year. Even when buying for one.
Also, if you shop during lunch time, you can easily fill up at all the sample tables scattered throughout the store. That will save you the $5-$10 you would have spent that day at a fast-food joint.